Film Spotlight: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close


Days that live in infamy are particular to every country. In the United States, what happened on September 11, 2001 is shelved in the mind along with the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941 and J.F. Kennedy’s assassination, November 22, 1963. On September 11, normalcy was stripped away and vulnerability and violation filled us all. Solemnity existed on multiple levels. Personally, many knew someone in the city or intimately involved with the day’s destruction. Regular time stopped and the interruption seized hold and shook hard as we stayed glued to the television for details and answers. The days and weeks unfolded and we prayed and cried and blessed the heroes and victims. Documentaries were made commemorating the efforts of fireman and doctors and nurses and policemen and military personnel and politicians. Families of those who passed shared their grief and we grieved with them. Today, a classy memorial is at Ground Zero with a saved Pear Tree, water falls, the names of the fallen, and two beams of light ascending to the clouds at nightfall.

The 2012, Best Picture nominee Extremely Loud and Extremely Close starred crème de la crème actors, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. The script seemed like it was in good hands. Eric Roth adapted his screenplay from Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel by the same name. I’ve been an admirer of Eric Roth as a screenwriter for a long time. Consider his track record: Forrest Gump, The Horse Whisperer, Ali, Munich, The Insider, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. If Eric Roth is involved with the project, odds are excellent the script will be intelligent, sensitive, and dynamic.  So why was this film either reviled or respected?

I have a tendency to focus on what’s great about a film and ignore as much as possible what’s annoying. If you haven’t seen Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I would focus on the performances of the supporting cast, like the marvelous Max von Sydow, who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Viola Davis had a  strong presence on the screen, too.

The principal child actor was eleven-year-old Thomas Horn as the grieving son, Oskar Schell. While I understand critics thought his frenetic screaming and exuberant rants annoying, I thought it was exactly the delivery he should have given if you consider the style of a Jonathan Safran Foer novel which is full of frenetic exuberant screaming. Some didn’t like the adaptation at all, but I don’t think of a book and a movie as the same story at all. They are two texts, related, but I never had a problem if the film version strayed from the book. Is Safron Foer’s book better than the film? Oh, yes. But I still enjoyed the film for more reasons than I disliked it.

The film is about the effects of a catastrophe, a day of infamy in a boy’s life, whose father dies on 9/11 and he reaches beyond the grave and inspires his son to move on. It’s not a plot driven story but rather character driven. It’s a film about the healing process of a brilliant son who can’t handle the horror of losing his idol. That’s powerful stuff. If it weren’t associated with the events of 9-11, it might have scored higher with critics who panned it for superficiality of a national tragedy. I didn’t see it that way at all. Too bad Bullock’s character didn’t have more dimension other than the mother who has to live with the knowledge if her son had to lose a parent, it would have been her in the casket rather than the father. Ouch.

I’d rate the film 7 out of 10.

Which camp do you fall in?

Is it possible you don’t know what happened on 9/11? Here’s a succinct summary.

26 thoughts on “Film Spotlight: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

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  1. I can’t share my own thoughts on this one, I’m afraid – the prevailing critical dismissal of the film when it was released kept me away from it. Your (hedged) praise suggests I should reconsider that decision – great review (I always find it difficult putting something relatively contemporary into historical perspective, but you did an excellent job there!)


    1. Thanks, Dave, for commenting. I think if you watched it you might see the inner beauty of the film. Oskar’s quest to solve the mystery of a key his father left for him is an interesting plot device. It seems unlikely strangers in NYC would open their doors to a boy and an old man, yet, during 9/11 who’d of thought when disaster struck in NYC strangers would help each other out so much. I think that’s the mysterious, lovely part of humanity–despite our tendency to become cynical and self-absorbed, I believe all people are in pain; it’s only when we reach out that we receive so much in return. The boy becomes a tonic for strangers’ personal aches. If you get around to watching it, please let me know what you think 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this film. It’s one I’m meaning to watch. Cindy, I really enjoy your blog – think it’s one of the best I’ve come across. I love the film reviews and the discussions of actors and actresses.


    1. Thanks so much, Kate! It means a lot. Books (I need to write a book review, I’ve been remiss) and films and history and everything with the humanities interests me. BTW, where are you from?


  3. Many of the better films of the year emerge with little fanfare. In fact, if a movie needs plenty of promotion you might well wonder that it’s not that great – or that money is more their object than anything else. A movie adapted from a book at least usually has something it is trying to say. So I’ll keep my eye open for this one.
    9/11 changed our world forever.


  4. Oh I haven’t seen this one yet. 6.8/10 isn’t exactly a stellar recommendation. Hmmm, I expected better given the cast, but glad that it was better than what the critics say.


    1. I feel the same way! He was nominated for ‘Capt. Phillips’ and it’s the same solid portrayal like in ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ or ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ or ‘The Terminal’ etcetera etcetera. I still love him. He’s never bad.


  5. Nice review, but I’d have to disagree with you. Honestly, I found this to be the most misguided portrayal of sincerity since Crash and found its portrayal of 9/11 sloppy and sentimental. I did enjoy Max von Sydow’s performance, but that was about it.


  6. This film touched me deeply, Cindy. Maybe not as much as the book, but it’s nearly impossible for a film to do that in such a short amount of time. I thought it was wonderfully cast, and felt drawn into each character and their wondrous acting skills. Thank you for giving a timely reminder of a film I know I’d like to see again–and a book I’d certainly love to revisit.


  7. Great review Cindy. Though you liked this a lot more than I did. I really was not a fan of this film. You are right to praise the class of the supporting cast. But I just found so much of it really hokey (think that’s the right word) – the young boy’s character and that played by Von Sydow too.

    Having said all that, the one scene where Sandra Bullock’s character and Tom Hanks one talk on the phone after one of the planes had hit was exceptionally powerful. Bullock in particular was incredible in this film. But for me though, that scene sort of exposes why I didn’t like the rest of the film at all. Nothing else comes close to that scene in terms of emotional realness or weight.


    1. Hi! Glad for you comments ;). I can agree with the criticisms because it seemed too hokey (perfect word). With that talent, it’s a shame the script weren’t stronger to give it a more sensitive yet realistic vibe. I still liked it.


      1. I can definitely get liking it. When I used to be the co-host of a regular podcast, I recall we discussed the film. And the host and I had a fair back and forth about the film because he had enjoyed it way more than I did.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. If you take a look at the comments this post received, you will notice the either or comments — loved it or hated it. I understand both sides and there you go. I wonder what you would think of it?


    1. You are the winner for the camp which thinks it was a sensitive and Oskar interesting rather than annoying. I mentioned how could anyone not know because I have secondary students who were only two when it happened, and they have only secondary experiences. It’s inevitable, it seems, that all events fade over time in society’s consciousness. Also, I try hard not to be ethnocentric. Just cause it happened in the states doesn’t mean it mattered to the world. Consider hot spots today. In some countries, their everyday is 9/11 day. But I sure appreciate your comments, Nuwansen!


  8. Nice review Cindy, I still want to see this. Not sure why I’ve missed it. I have seen the World Trade Center film with Nic Cage and was surprised with the quality of that. The one I’ve found most effective thus far though has to be United 93. That was a gut wrenching film.


    1. Hi Tom! Thanks for your commenting. I liked it. Tom Hanks was tender and strong. Sandra’s performance was great. The acting–very strong. People seemed to have issues with the crazy plot and slow pace. I didn’t mind. It was a film that felt more like a book.


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